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Turkish offensive on Kurds brings ‘chaos’ in northern Syria

President Trump on Sunday ordered the withdrawal of nearly all 1,000 U.S. troops from northern Syria as Turkey continued a military offensive against Syrian Kurds that has left the region in chaos. For more on the escalating military offensive in Syria, Sarah El Deeb, a reporter for the Associated Press, joins Megan Thompson from Beirut.

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  • Megan Thompson:

    For more on the escalating military offensive in Syria, I'm joined by Sarah El Deeb, a reporter for The Associated Press covering Syria and Lebanon. She joins me now via Skype from Beirut.

    Sara, thank you so much for being here.

  • Sarah El Deeb:

    Thank you for having me.

  • Megan Thompson:

    So a withdrawal of troops out of northern Syria. What do you know about how quickly that might happen, and what are the consequences going to be?

  • Sarah El Deeb:

    We don't. We can't imagine how fast this will happen, but once an announcement was made, I think we have to see them leave the area. They have already come under fire a number of times — first before the weekend, when a base, a small observation point in the western part of the border came under fire while Turkish and Kurdish fighters were exchanging projectiles and then this morning we've seen chaos and advancing Turkish-backed forces into the town of NSA, which is about 20 miles away from the border. And that resulted in the escape of a number of ISIS supporters from a holding area and displaced people of the camp. And what I understood from U.S. officials that I'm talking to is that they have no, they could not control, they could not get enough clarity or line of communication with their partners overrun and this was a very risky situation as I was told by the troops.

  • Megan Thompson:

    Talk a little bit more about that. I mean, what are the consequences of these hundreds of ISIS families escaping from that camp?

  • Sarah El Deeb:

    We're just receiving reports that a convoy of civilians with a bunch of journalists may have come under fire from a Turkish airstrike or two shells. It's still we're still kind of trying to figure out the details of that. So that's one thing and then you have pictures of women and children leaving the camp where they're being held. This camp had about 900 foreign children and mothers. These are families of ISIS. So what we understood also from officials in the area is that some of the people in the camp were closeted ISIS supporters. And when this happened then there was a lot of violence and pushback against the guards and against the security that were in there so while this is just really fast moving, what we know is that there is no control over the security of these detention centers. The bigger problem is a whole camp which is further to the east that has a lot more families of ISIS directly. And we've heard last month, the leader of the Islamic State asked for every supporter of ISIS to try to free these people so we don't know what kind of what kind of consequence it would have, but it's definitely chaos.

  • Megan Thompson:

    Meanwhile hundreds of thousands of civilians are in harm's way. I mean, can you talk a little bit about the unfolding humanitarian crisis there?

  • Sarah El Deeb:

    This has been five days and we have already 130,000, at least 130,000 civilians fleeing their homes from a stretch of already over 300 kilometers, which is about 250 miles. At one point, the U.S. bases were kind of a safe area to be around but that's clearly no longer the case. People are running to their relatives in areas that are further south. There's about 20 or so shelters that were set up by the U.N. and aid and maybe more. I mean this this may not be the most updated figure but shelters for people on the run but these are people who are running while fighting is as chaotic as I describe. And the U.S. is bowing out. In the meantime it was always a safety valve some sort.

  • Megan Thompson:

    President Trump has also threatened sanctions on Turkey in the midst of all this. I mean, do we think that's going to happen and what effect might those have?

  • Sarah El Deeb:

    What we have on the ground is that Turkish forces are advancing to establish what they had said they wanted to — which is a 30 kilometer (19 miles) deep safe zone. But what we've also seen is that there are projectiles and airstrikes and shelling outside of that zone on the west, to the right or left of that zone. And while President Trump a few days ago said that if they go too far there will be harm to their economy — I don't think he ever described what "too far" is. I wonder is that too far or what is too far. It's not clear to us from where we're looking.

  • Megan Thompson:

    All right. Sarah El Deeb of the Associated Press, thank you so much for being with us today.

  • Sarah El Deeb:

    Thank you.

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